The Fall Armyworm ‘FAW’, a pest that feeds on leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species, is causing major damage to the maize crop in Zambia.
Native to the Americas, Fall Armyworm was reported for the first time in Africa in 2016. The pest has since then been causing significant damage to maize crops and has great potential for further spread and economic damage. In the absence of natural biological control or adequate pest management, the FAW poses a threat to the food security and livelihoods of millions of African smallholders and their families.
What is of major concern to Zambia is that, FAW prefers to infest maize, a dietary staple for Zambians, and for more than 200 million people in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The pest however, also feeds on a wide range of other important crops, including sorghum, millet, rice, groundnut, cotton and vegetables.
The first time these pests were noticed in the country, there was panic and wonder as to what pest this was; 3 years on, the pest is still ravaging maize fields in Zambia.
According to a research done in 2018, titled ‘knowledge for life, Fall armyworm: impacts and implications for Africa’ , household surveys done in Ghana and Zambia, up to 98% of farmers indicated that their maize crop was affected, with the average maize loss by farmers in Ghana being up to 30% and in Zambia currently at 35%. These percentages translate into an estimated loss in value of the annual maize crop of close to USD 200 million in Ghana and USD 160 million in Zambia.
To minimise the losses, the government in Zambia is taking action. A national task force to handle the FAW pest has been put in place; the researchers are also doing their part, as much as private organisations are in on the plan to reduce the losses being recorded as a result of the damage caused the Fall Army Worm. When the infestation was at its highest in 2017, the government actually engaged armed forces to spray the affected maize feeds and contain the rampaging FAW.
The festive season has drawn to a close, I have just arrived back home from a family holiday, one look at my garden where I had planted maize last December, I realise it is been attacked by the fall army worm, the tattered leaves are clear from a distance. I am able to recognise the damage on the leaves is being caused by the fall army worm because before leaving for holidays, I had just attended a 10 day workshop in which radio producers teamed up with crop scientists to strategize on how best we could carry out a radio campaign to bring out messages about the fall army worm. With funding from the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International ‘CABI’, I had taken a visit to the northern parts of Zambia, to collect audio lessons ranging from identifying the Fall Army Worm to minimising the damage and chemical control when the situation got of hand.
In seven local languages the National agricultural information service, is speaking about these invasive worms. This is one of the ways the government in Zambia is fighting back to avoid the loss of the maize crop that results from the damage caused by the fall army worm.
I have decided to visit the 3 offices that have put their efforts into fighting the army worm. These offices are the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), MRI Syngenta and the Zambia Agricultural Research institute ‘ZARI’, the organisation leading the National task force response to fighting the FAW.
At CABI I meet up with Catherine Mloza Banda, the Development Communications Specialist- Invasive Species Management Southern Africa, she tells me, Zambia is implementing a communications campaign with funding from the Action on Invasive programme in the 2018/19 maize growing season. CABI in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture through the National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS) is implementing a national radio campaign focussing on identification, prevention and management of Fall Armyworm (FAW). The campaign is aimed at helping smallholder farmers in Zambia minimise FAW losses and learn how to safely use chemical in times when they have to spray with chemical to control the FAW.
Catherine further explains that at a workshop convened in November 2018, key FAW messages to be aired on radio were developed. The workshop brought together key stakeholders from the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI); Department of Agriculture; Crop Life, National Union of Small Scale Farmers in Zambia; and the National Agricultural Information Service ‘NAIS’. The key output of the meeting was an outline of validated, evidenced-based, and farmer-friendly messages that have been airing on radio throughout the maize growing season for this 2018/2019 farm season.
I have heard that there is on the market maize seed that has been treated with chemicals to fight the invasion of the FAW, in the first few critical weeks of the maize crop development, I visit MRI Syngenta, the company at the centre of this new seed treatment plan
At Syngenta meet, Brian Mhango, Head of Communications explains that recently, Syngenta has tested new seed treatment, which is a combination of two active ingredients known as “Fortenza Duo”. Syngenta reports that Fortenza Duo protects the maize crop during the first critical 30 days (after emergence) against Fall Armyworm and saves the farmer up to 3 foliar sprays with expensive chemicals, while reducing fall armyworm pressure for the rest of crop cycle. Syngenta suggest that seed treatment, as a technology, is the most appropriate for smallholder farmers as there is significantly less health hazards compared to exposure to foliar sprays. FORTENZA™ Duo received registration in Zambia in January 2018
Monitoring the FAW is one of the ways to ensure that appropriate action is taken to control the pest Shadreck Mwale the National Task force Coordinator explains to me that, scientific organisations like the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute ZARI, recommend using pheromone traps to monitor the FAW population. Female FAW moths attract males by emitting a pheromone and this principle is used to lure moths to the trap. The traps are a good way to monitor the FAW population but on their own, do not to control FAW. Once the pest is noticed through the pheromone trap, farmers are encouraged to take action to control the FAW as per advice from farm extension workers and radio campaigns currently going on.
The damage caused by the FAW as has been established can be devastating, the loss in yields substantial, I had learnt some local ways to fight the army worms, so for my small field which I found infested after my Christmas holiday, I asked my gardener to mix some ash with water and spray in the maize funnel, 4 weeks since I arrived back the maize crop is recovering and growing taller, I can see the tassels should be coming out soon. It is my hope that farmers around the country are winning too.
By using treated seed, scouting for the FAW using the phelomena trap and following the instructions being given out on radio on how to best handle the FAW, we can have these ravaging armies ‘ the FAW’ under control.